How do you describe a person who gives the most importance to little details (of little value) while ignoring the aspects of much greater importance?

It would describe one who places more importance on, say, presentation/reporting than on actual content, showcasing small and less important work as opposed to the most difficult, innovative and challenging work.

Is there a word or phrase which can be used to describe this behavior?

  • I would definitely go with "shallow". Words like "myopic" or "narrow-minded" and etc. imply some sort of singular focus, but someone who is focused on presentation and style over content isn't necessarily narrow-minded. They may have very broad concerns with style. The issue that you are identifying is that what they are concerned with is not of substance. That it's superficial. That it's shallow. – Marcel Besixdouze Mar 6 '14 at 7:44
  • @MattЭллен This behaviour might not be causing something really terrible. – kanna Mar 6 '14 at 11:09
  • If this behaviour is intentional in achieving personal gain like fame, while disregarding rest of the people around in the process. – kanna Mar 6 '14 at 11:18
  • But the resulting list of words is the same. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 6 '14 at 11:20

Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish

Meaning that you spend a lot of time looking after the small parts, but you're terrible with the larger, more important big picture.

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  • Does this refer more to money management, than to not having a vision in general? – Dan Dascalescu Mar 6 '14 at 7:16

He can't see the forest for the trees.

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  • What if this is done intentionally? – kanna Mar 6 '14 at 1:01
  • I don't think this adage goes into intent, just results. Another turn of phrase might fit this better. – Oldcat Mar 6 '14 at 1:04
  • The phrase certainly conveys that the forest is important, and shouldn't be missed for the trees, but I'm not sure it conveys that the trees are any less important than the forest. I certainly don't think it conveys that the trees are "of little value". I would definitely go with "shallow". – Marcel Besixdouze Mar 6 '14 at 7:39
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    This is the phrase I was going to suggest - I think it accurately describes someone who gets caught up on small details while missing the big picture. Interestingly, the phrase I've always heard is "Can't see the wood for the trees" - is this a regional thing? – BiscuitBaker Mar 6 '14 at 9:51
  • "He doesn't see the big picture." – ChrisW Mar 6 '14 at 13:41

Shallow: having little depth; lacking intellectual or mental depth or subtlety; superficial. (First recorded c.1586 of thought or feeling.)

Because of his shallow reporting, the reader of this story is being misinformed by omission. - kktv.com

Superficial: displaying a lack of thoroughness or care: of little substance or significance. (First recorded c.1530 meaning "not deep or thorough" (of perceptions, thoughts, etc.)

I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term — meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching — there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster. -Ansel Adams

Frivolous: of little or no weight, worth, or importance; not worthy of serious notice. (This is a less serious way to address the issue, though. Sometimes implies levity.)

Rob Ford has gained international media attention and has been fodder for late night comedians. Frivolous reporting fails to examine the deeper issues at play in all this which – while not generating the headlines of lewd statements and admitted crack-use – seriously warrant attention. (a synthesis)

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I would say that person is definitely sweating the small stuff.

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One word that comes to my mind is 'myopic', meaning 'short-sighted'.

Important things are usually those that require more thinking, and if a person tends to ignore looking at the bigger picture, they can be called myopic.

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jobsworth: Chambers dictionary defines it as "a minor official who regards the rigid enforcement of petty rules as more important than providing a service to the public".

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  • Hi postmortes Can you post a link to the definition? Or, if you got it from a book, please give some more details - full name of the dictionary, edition/year. – nxx Mar 6 '14 at 13:50

Even though these are plain adjectives, and not idioms, I would suggest vapid or vacuous, or any of Susan's suggestions.

While not a perfect match for what you're describing, if this is a person in a management position in a company, you might consider whether the person is perhaps a bureaucrat.

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In a word:

foolish: adjective : 1. lacking in sense, judgment, or discretion 2a : absurd, ridiculous

from m-w.com

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